However many lgbt athletes will be listed on the Outsports website going to the Rio Olympics there is one certainty – there’ll also be a few athletes who have not declared their lgbt sexuality to the media. These are the “Unknown” of today’s article.
Of the 255 lgbt Olympians on my current list many came out after their competitive careers ended. Even a couple have had their sexuality debated in the media during the Olympics themselves and didn’t come out officially until afterwards (US figure skater Johnny Weir is one example).
Because of the nature of being an unknown athletes this article is much shorter than others. But I think it is important for us to remember that not all athletes feel comfortable coming out in their sport.
There is still a prevailing atmosphere among many lgbt athletes that disclosing their sexuality earlier would have effected their sporting ability or acceptance. However much sporting organisations attempt to convince lgbt athletes that their chosen sport is inclusive and can deal with homophobia it isn’t assurance enough.
Even today there are several ex-Olympians who have let their sexuality be known in interviews but who keep their real identity a secret. This is why I have three “Anonymous” athletes listed among the lgbt Olympians. It is a reminder that sport is not yet totally accepting of lgbt athletes. There is even an athlete going to the Rio Olympics who isn’t out publicly.
Then there are the athletes who are openly lgbt within their sport and family circle who are not known to the media. Just a few days before the London 2012 Olympics began one athlete who was “unknown” revealed herself to the media – South African archer Karen Hultzer. She said she has never kept her sexuality a secret. Just a day after the publication of the first Outsports list on July 11th another lgbt athlete came forward – US kayaker Ashley Nee.
This highlights one of the confusing aspects of coming out. Exactly when would you consider yourself to be out publicly? When you tell all the people in your personal and working life? Or when you tell the media? I suppose it depends how famous you are at the time.
By using the word “unknown” we are also not only referring to those athletes who are not known to the media. Unknown can be used to describe the athlete’s historical sexuality and gender.
When Tom Daley made his Olympic debut at the age of 14, or Ondrej Nepela the week after his 13th birthday, they probably had no idea that they would declare their gay sexuality in public later in life.
Caitlyn Jenner competed in the decathlon competition in 1972 and 1976. There is nothing to indicate that she was aware that she would become transgender even if she had been questioning her gender at the time. We can say that when both Jenner and Daley first competed at the Olympic Games their future gender and sexual identities were unknown, even if their lifestyles at the time seemed to indicate otherwise.
Because of the differing ages at which people begin to question their sexuality it is almost pointless trying to make any sort of list of lgbt athletes at the Youth Olympics. This is the most recent of the manifestations the International Olympic Committee have developed and I’ll write more about them under the letter “Y”.
The athletes at the Youth Olympics are all teenagers, and as everyone will have experienced for themselves, this is a period of many changes in both body and mind. In some participating countries homosexuality isn’t even legal for them at that age. It has only been after the athletes have become too old to qualify for the Youth Olympics that we know they competed. Again, Tom Daley is one, and American luger John Fennell is another.
Who knows how many “unknown” lgbt athletes competing in Rio will be added to the lists in time. The trend in my own research seems to suggest (based on the Olympics of London 2012, Beijing 2008 and Athens 2004) that there are twice as many lgbt Olympians at the games as are listed at the time. If that is the case with Rio 2016 then we could well eventually have a record number of over 80 lgbt athletes competing. However, we could be witnessing a change. Have more athletes made their sexualities known to the media than would otherwise have done so? Are more athletes becoming more comfortable being listed? Only time will tell.
The updated list of lgbt Olympians will be published on August 5th to coincide with the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics.